By the time I had sex for the first time, I was really looking forward to it. My boyfriend and I had planned a getaway weekend in London for the occasion, interrupting the long-distance-ness of our relationship for a few short days. I could just imagine it: typical British rain tapping romantically against the window of our little hotel, while I left virginhood forever in the arms of someone I loved. Perfect, right?
Not so much. Here’s the thing: it hurt. A lot. I wasn’t too surprised, as I’d heard that the first time can be painful. But I was in so much pain that I could barely walk through the National Museum the next day without wincing. After that first time, I’d gamely suggested Round 2, then Round 3, hoping that my vagina would just kind of get used to this new activity. It did not. It was terrible.
In the years that followed, through a couple of patient boyfriends and a few less-than-stellar hookups, sex never stopped hurting. My gynecologists suggested foreplay and lube; I knew about those already, thankyouverymuch. Something else was terribly wrong, but no one could tell me what it was. I felt broken, and mourned the fact that I was clearly never going to experience this basic, awesome human experience – having sex – without also feeling a great deal of pain.
Finally, the night before an appointment with a new gynecologist, I had sex again. And it hurt. A lot. I had to stop everything in the middle of it (not a new experience for me), and my partner worriedly pointed out that I was bleeding. The next day, even my simple exam was so painful that I nearly passed out. I broke down in front of my doctor: I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was tired of the pain, tired of the disappointment, tired of feeling unwomanly and unsexy and defective.
My gynecologist looked at me and said the words I’d waited years to hear: “You know what? You’re not the only one who’s experienced this.” She explained that I had all of the symptoms of vaginismus, a dysfunction of the muscles surrounding the vagina that causes them to tighten up involuntarily, making it really painful to do things like have sex. She referred me to a physical therapist specializing in the pelvic floor, a set of muscles that can affect all kinds of organs in the pelvis. That therapy, as it turned out, involved a less-than-pleasant combination of the gynecologist’s office and the gym, but my therapist was amazing and really put me on the path to healing.
It’s been a tough road. Many years later, I still can’t say that I’m “cured” – vaginismus involves a complicated combination of physical and mental phenomena, and it’s hard to fix. But I’m getting there. Along the way, I started opening up to others about my condition – and found that many other women have experienced the same thing, and also didn’t know where to go for help.
If you or someone you love might be suffering from vaginismus, check out this interview with Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a wonderful gynecologist, academic, and author who has worked with many women experiencing the painful effects of vaginismus. She outlines some of the causes of the condition, as well as where to go to seek help.
Some of Dr. Hutcherson’s key takeaways:
What about you? Please share your experiences, helpful resources, or questions in the comments section. I wish you all the best in your path toward healing!
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